Chris and I both started reading at three years old and were fluent independent readers before starting school. I think we both kind of assumed that our children would be, too, and it’s been a little surprising that RoRo has learnt to read at school. She’s had a fair bit of help from us and we have certainly not been remiss in sharing our love of books with her. Bedtime stories have been part of her life almost from day one and we’ve read to her at other times, too. We are regular visitors to the library – and the girls usually have their tickets full. We both read a lot and always have a book (or three or four, in Chris’s case) on the go, carrying them round the house with us and out and about when there’s any likelihood of having to sit and wait anywhere.
I made a half-hearted attempt to do phonics with RoRo when she was three, but I really didn’t understand it and she wasn’t noticeably receptive at that point. She’s always been much more keen on being read to, than reading herself. We’ve tried to entice her with the possibilities open to her once she learns to read – if she wants one more chapter, she’ll be able to have one, she won’t be tied to what we want to read, she’ll be able to do the accents herself in her head, she’ll have so many books and worlds that she’ll be able to discover – but she’s only shown the odd glimmer of interest in this end result.
But, I think, as with so many developmental steps (talking, crawling, walking, jumping…), she needed to be ready in herself. Some people will jump in at three, others will not really get into it until they’re seven or so. Not that I’d advocate doing nothing to teach or encourage reading until a child suddenly develops an interest. I don’t think I was wrong in attempting to teach her phonics at an early age (though I was definitely wrong in the methods I used), I don’t think we were wrong in helping her with her school books and getting other books to encourage her when she was losing enthusiasm with the school books. I don’t think we were wrong in practising her phonics with her throughout Reception. And I most certainly don’t think we were wrong in filling her life with books from her first days. But I do think we were (I was – I may well be putting words in Chris’s mouth here) wrong to expect her to read at a very early age just because we did.
This weekend, though, she searched through all her Magic Tree House books (that I’ve read to her once), found the first one and read it. To herself. She sat on the stairs reading it (out loud, though sometimes under her breath) and wouldn’t come down to dinner until she’d finished the bit she was reading. She sat in the armchair and read before and after dinner. She got into bed and read while I was getting LaLa ready for bed and reading to her, then came through to our room and read some more, before she was interrupted to be read to – one chapter of The Silver Chair from me and one chapter of Archer’s Goon from Chris – and then she finished the book in bed before going to sleep. She came downstairs this morning carrying the second book and proceeded to read half the first chapter – some bits to LaLa and some bits on her own.
I’m sure there are some of you out there who understand my total and utter glee at this step: moving on to enthusiastic independent reading. I had butterflies, I was so excited. All the books out there to discover and get lost in. Magical worlds to explore. Fascinating facts to delve into. Mysteries to solve. Beautiful passages and poems to bury herself in. How wonderful to have all that ahead of her.
And I really don’t care when it happens, as long as it does happen. I believe that she’s pretty much at the stage she’s expected to be at this point in her school career (in the final term of Year One) – perhaps a little ahead, though I’m not positive. Which is great. It would have been great if she’d done it before school. It would have been great if she’d done it in Reception. And it would have been great if she’d done it in Year 2. What is without a doubt great is that she’s got the reading bug and hopefully will never lose it.
What do you think? Do you think there’s an ideal age or stage when children are most receptive to learning to read? Do you think it’s wrong to try to start them earlier? Do you remember when you started to read independently? Did you feel a similar excitement when your children reached that point? Oh, and, can you recommend some other good chapter books for her to get her teeth into, once she’s got through (or got fed up with) the Magic Tree House series?